Traveling to Europe from the west coast comes with significant jet-lag and sleep pattern disruption, and this trip has been right on cue. Last night was the first night of at least 4 consecutive hours of sleep. Being tired and having a sore back, are not the way to go into a senior major, and I’ll need to get my body aligned over the next 48 hours.
The two early morning practice rounds I have enjoyed at Walton Heath have been spectacular and quite enjoyable. Since I couldn’t sleep either Sunday or Monday morning I decided to go out early and play a quick practice round. The weather was similar to what you all saw watching the Open Championship at Royal St Georges, high winds with squalls of driving rain. The good news there is the wind brings these fronts in quickly, and they go by in a matter of minutes (usually).
The first player I ran into was my friend Mike Goodes who was with Larry Mize, they are staying at a rented house nearby that apparently Tom Lehman set up for them. On Sunday I played a few holes with lefty and one time PGA tour winner Ernie Gonzales. Monday morning as I parked the car I ran into the ever affable, Tom Watson who always gets to the site of the next event early the next morning with a wide grin and a look of energy. Even though we discussed a practice round together, I decided to get out first and finish before the heavier rain arrived.
So Walton Heath, how should I describe this course……..it’s a beauty for sure, and just remember when your watching the coverage on the telly that the fairways are probably tighter than what the camera will show you. For this reason my prediction is the guys that drive the ball VERY straight and long will have a good shot at breaking par here, especially if they play when the wind is down. I’d say compared to Carnoustie last year, you’ll need to hit the tee ball straighter and the greens have a lot more undulation than those at Carnoustie. I think Carnoustie played longer, but had significantly more roll in the fairways as Walton Heath is still very soft from all the summer rainfall.
If I had to predict a winning score right now, I’d say it’s somewhere in between the winning score at Sunningdale (-12) and the winning score at Carnoustie (I think was -4) so I’ll say -8 will be the winning score in this years event (Boy I have my work cut out for me!!!)
The challenge at Walton Heath is that errant tee shots will not allow the player to advance a ball to the green (or rarely at best) the small amt of rough becomes heather which is not what you might think it is (high grass) this actually is a small bush that doesn’t allow a club to plow through it similar to Ice Plant. The fairway bunkers are steeply pitched and usually wont allow a club necessary to reach the green, so bunker shots will need to be laid up to good yardages for par saving attempts. The three par five holes are good ones with tight fairways and challenging second shots into narrow openings, which will require precision to get the ball to stay on the green. The only reachable par fives are #2 and #11 and will need friendly wind conditions or these will be three shot holes as well.
THIS IS HOW I PLAN TO PLAY WALTON HEATH DURING THE 2011 SENIOR OPEN
#1 Par 4 435 yard slight dogleg rightIt’s hard to see from the photo, but there is a tree on the right side of the fairway that the tee shot MUST be kept left of, as there is very high heather to the right of the tree and a canyon that will make an escape almost impossible. The ideal shot is a rescue shot of 240 down the right center that will chase down the steep slope to the 150 yard marker. A good start is VERY important on this good opening hole.
The second shot into #1 plays a good 10 yards uphill plus an extra club for the wind coming usually straight at you. From the 150 marker I hit a low punch 6 iron that only got to the front portion of this wide green. Like most of the greens at WH this green is 32 yards deeep and 25 yards wide.
the 1st green is slightly sloped from back to front and from right to left.
The tee shot on #2 is straight forward with a fairly generous amt of fairway. This tee shot into the wind needs to avoid the bunker in the right 250 yards off the tee. The second shot requires a strategic decision based on how far to the front of the green you have. There is a grassy mound 75 yards from the green in the left center of the fairway that needs to be avoided, along with bunkers left and right approx 30 yards short of the green. If you cannot reach this green in two shots, the lay up is to 100 yards out. This green is 34 yards long and 20 yards wide with subtle undulation throughout the green. This is a birdie hole and should be played aggressively if the wind is not blowing to strong in the players face.
The tee shot on #3 needs to be long and accurate, with heavy heather down the left side and a deep bunker on the right, a straight and solid drive is a must here. This hole plays into the prevailing wind, and will be one of the tougher par 4’s on the course.
The second shot looks downhill, but plays the yardage plus an extra club or two for the wind that prevails into your face on this shot. The green is well guarded with bunkers left and right. I hit a punch 6 iron into the front portion of this green during both my practice rounds.
The 3rd green has some crazy undulation unlike any other green at Walton Heath, this green is 34 yards deep, and more narrow than most in the front portion. This is a good solid par 4 that requires some shot making to make a par. There will be some high scores posted on #3.
The tee shot on #4 is another tight and demanding tee ball that again plays into the prevailing wind. The large bunker down the left side needs to be avoided, while the right side has some room, the miss way right will put you into some very heavy heather. A low bullet up the middle is the desired tee ball off #4 tee.
The second shot into #4 play into a 1-2 club wind that again will depend on the pin position to this deep green. Players will need to avoid the false front on the left front of the green. A solid shot to the middle of this green will be the conservative play.
The 4th hole is yet another tough par 4 that should be played with caution, this hole again will play as one of the tougher par 4’s if the prevailing wind is in our face. The green has the usual undulation, with subtle breaks. Most of the Walton Heath greens are quite fast downhill and slower uphill.
The 5th hole plays slightly shorter than the posted 183 yards. I hit a 7 iron to the middle of this very narrow green. The wind coming from the right makes hitting this green even more challenging. The green has a severe false front and a slope off the green in the front left. The ideal tee shot here will be played to the middle right of this green, ensuring the ball will stay on the green. The miss left will put you on hard pan or with a very thin and tough lie. This is a birdie hole if the wind is not to strong from the right. The green is very narrow and gets more narrow towards the back of the green. The club will be a 7 iron to the front or middle of the green to a 6 iron to a pin back of center.
The tee shot on #6 has a little more room than most other tee shots at Walton Heath, but a bunker down the right side at 269 off the tee needs to be avoided. The room off the tee here is down the left side as the high heather is not in this area. This will be a 3 shot hole (unless Couples would be in the field)
The lay up on this par 5 hole needs to be well thought out as two strategic bunkers await the players on the right side at 151 and 82 yards from the green. The lay up should avoid these bunkers, leaving the player a good distance into this wide green (approx 25 yards) with 28 yards deep. This green has a false front and two bunkers guarding the left and right of this green.
This is the last of the holes straight into the prevailing wind. This three shot par 5 is a birdie hole that should be played conservatively until the third shot into the green.
HOLES 7-12 and 13-18 coming in the next few days. Stay tuned